with Mark de Roo

Staples of life, L.A. style

The death of the job description
Staples. If there ever was a success story in the office supplies world, this is it. You got to know they got something going on when the arena where the Los Angeles Lakers play is named “The Staples Center.”  Personally, I like my local Staples a lot. Their customer service is second to none and their prices are fair.

But this blog isn’t about Staples’ office products.  It’s about the staples that are the bread-and-butter of life.  For me “staples” are legumes, dairy products, protein, fruits, and JETS pizza. Without these, life could be a struggle.

There are equally important “staples” that apply to the work world, such as a 40-hour week, an annual performance review, and yes, a job description. The latter spells out what is expected of us.  We’re most often familiar with it when we start a new job.  It is often arranged in sections:
•    Job title
•    Reporting relationship
•    Budget authority
•    Specific responsibilities
•    Qualifications.

Problem: job description defines boundaries

Fundamentally, a job description defines boundaries.  It keeps one focused on certain tasks and duties. And therein lies a problem.  A big problem. By confining your focus to a limited number of functions, it limits opportunities to leverage your skills and passions in other areas.  What’s lost in the process is your ability to innovate.

Staple diet . . . too much of a good thing?

This revelation came to me last week when reading a blog by Julian Birkinshaw on the Management Innovation eXchange web site.  He offers this perspective:
Truly innovative companies avoid giving people job descriptions.  For example, the UK consumer products company, Innocent (famous for its healthy smoothies), asks all of its employees to help deliver its vision of making “natural, delicious food and drink that helps people live well and die old.”  Over the past few years, its big new product lines have both come from ideas conceived and developed by mid-level employees.

Don’t you love it?  Here’s a company that empowers its employees to be anything but silos.  They want people to share the larger vision.  The heck with anyone who says “That’s not your job!”

I beg to doodle!
So, what about you?  To what degree, are you chained to your job description?   Or, are you gutsy enough to offer a suggestion on something that could be tweaked in your organization?  What small, medium, or large idea has been noodling in your brain for a long time and is begging to be expressed?  Even more importantly, what’s the cost if you don’t do something about it?

I’m not suggesting total anarchy by having a mass burning of job descriptions.   They serve a purpose.  I’m just thinking there’s a ton of white space on those descriptions that begs for some doodling of new ideas and “What if’s.”   Your job description will thank you for it.  And so will your organization.

photos by Alberth2 & Tom Mooring